STEREOLAB / EMPEROR TOMATO KETCHUP
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Stereolab was poised for a breakthrough release with Emperor Tomato Ketchup, their fourth full-length album. Not only was their influence becoming apparent throughout alternative rock, but Mars Audiac Quintet and Music for the Amorphous Body Center indicated they were moving closer to distinct pop melodies. The group certainly hasn't backed away from pop melodies on Emperor Tomato Ketchup, but just as their hooks are becoming catchier, they bring in more avant-garde and experimental influences, as well. Consequently, the album is Stereolab's most complex, multi-layered record. It lacks the raw, amateurish textures of their early singles, but the music is far more ambitious, melding electronic drones and singsong melodies with string sections, slight hip-hop and dub influences, and scores of interweaving counter melodies. Even when Stereolab appears to be creating a one-chord trance, there is a lot going on beneath the surface. Furthermore, the group's love for easy listening and pop melodies means that the music never feels cold or inaccessible. In fact, pop singles like "Cybele's Reverie" and "The Noise of Carpet" help ease listeners into the group's more experimental tendencies. Because of all its textures, Emperor Tomato Ketchup isn't as immediately accessible as Mars Audiac Quintet, but it is a rich, rewarding listen.